I’ve written before about one of the most important things you can do in 40k is finishing off an opponent while you have momentum. Often you will have a great first two turns where your shooting is red hot and you kill half the opponent’s army without taking casualties in return, only to have the opponent hang around and eventually the game ends up very close at the end. The goal in a competitive situation should be to turn those strong starts into tablings, and not have them end in games that are down to a single die roll on turn 7.
This is common advice. I’ve written about, and so has everyone else. But how do you actually make it happen? Not too many people discuss that part, which is, incidentally, the hard part.
In my experience, there are two methods you can utilize to finish off a cripple opponent and maintain momentum: close combat and low AP and anti-cover shooting. Let’s discuss each…
Waaaaaaay back in the day, I wrote about my rather average ‘Ard Boyz semi-finals results which stemmed from using a list that was all shooting and no close combat. I remarked about how I would alpha strike, kill ½ of my opponent’s list and then watch as his second half slowly grinded back to even out the game. I decided from that point forward, I wouldn’t play any lists that didn’t have at least marginal CC ability. Even in my current 2k BT list I have two units of terminators, which are not good CC units in a vacuum, but they aren’t bad at finishing off crippled combat squads.
In any event, you can use close combat ability to finish off a crippled foe. Close combat is weaker than shooting in 5th Edition 40k, we all know that. But it has some things going for it that make it very good for our purposes today. First, we can assume that if you had a smashingly good first few turns your opponent is de-meched. An all foot opponent makes close combat units far more effective. Second, close combat ignores cover. This is huge.
Cover is why shooty lists have difficulty beating crippled opponents. Turn one, demech unit, and then kill 40% of them. Second turn, they go to ground in cover and you only kill one of them, and realize it’s not profitable to continue shooting them. Unfortunately, that unit isn’t dead. That unit is alive, in cover and probably near an objective or at least worth a kill point. If you ignore then, you’re just making the end game a lot more in doubt as the opponent still has a unit hanging around to trouble you on objectives or not contribute a kill point/VP. So ignoring them is bad. However, also bad is realizing how much firepower you have to pour into a unit of 5 IG vets with 3++ cover saves to finish them. It’s an annoyingly high amount of dakka. By using so much fire on a crappy 5 guardsmen, you might be ignoring more valuable intact opposing units.
A close combat unit or two advancing into the opponent’s backfield can solve this dilemma. They can charge in, wipe the unit out, and move onto another one next turn. Unlike shooting, they have a level of inevitability and reduce the variance of cover saves. By having a few close combat units doing your clean up, your shooty units (most of your army) can continue to shoot at high priority, profitable targets. This is an often overlooked synergy. By not shooting at inefficient targets (because your CC units are savaging them) your shooty units get to shoot more optimally. The end result is your entire army performs more optimally and you don’t lose the valuable momentum you’ve gained in the early turns.
Low AP/Anti-cover shooting
This is a lesson that seasoned Tau players can teach everyone. Tau don’t have close combat units that can finish off opponents’ crippled units. So what do Tau generals do? Plasma, missile pods, and Marker Lights (to reduce cover).
Most non-Tau, non-IG players consider Plasma and Flamer units “bad.” Mostly because they don’t shoot down vehicles. But what good is a lascannon when you’re shooting at 5 Guardsmen in cover? Not too much. It’s not even so hot at shooting at 5 marines outside of cover.
I’m not advocating anything approaching a 50/50 split between anti-tank/anti-infantry firepower. In fact, I’d argue that the role of anti-infantry firepower should be similar to close combat units in shooty lists, one or two units that are either dedicated to that task, or at least can be pressed into it when circumstances are favorable. One or two dedicated plasma/flamer units per army isn’t too terrible of a sacrifice of points, and most importantly, anything you “lose” in points by buying them you could potentially gain back by allowing your anti-tank units to fire optimally. If you have plasma units, you don’t have to waste a lascannon shot on 5 marines, the lascannon can continue to shoot at vehicles. Optimal shooting maintains momentum. Sub-optimal shooting is how you lose it.
If there is a single lesson to take away from all this, it’s consider bringing one or two ‘finisher’ units so that your mainline units can continue their tasks optimally. The mainline units will give you the momentum, and you don’t want to give your opponent a way back into the game by playing loose and wasting your shots on sub-optimal plays in the mid-game.